Could You Be the Prodigal?

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in household rules, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, struggling teens, troubled teens

Dreaming

In a world where parents indulge their kids with everything they want, it would seem that these kids would be especially grateful.  Instead, a generation has become selfish, self-centered and unprepared for real life.

A dictionary definition of a “prodigal” is “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.” You may think your teenager is acting like a prodigal these days, but have you considered that according to this definition, you may be the prodigal yourself?

Many parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their kids. Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that.  The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids. Unbridled spending on kids can lead to selfish attitudes and feelings of entitlement on the part of the teen.  And such kids are in for a rude awakening when real life comes calling.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m giving my child what I lacked as a child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager. In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity.  It can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults. In other words, spoiled kids later become spoiled adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give. But they may want to keep it in check to prevent the kind of damage that I see every day in some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program. For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

The biblical story of the Prodigal in Luke 15 wonderfully illustrates such a turnabout in thinking for a pampered, selfish child who suddenly faced the realities of life.

In Luke 15:12 the son in the story says, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” For whatever reason, this young man had a “give me” sense of entitlement that was pretty demanding. It was probably because he never had a need for anything for as long as he had lived. The family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away.  But he had soon spent his entire inheritance, all of it, on riotous living.  What a great lesson in finance!  Though he was given so much, he lost it all in a very short period of time.

Then, half-starved and thinking that his golddigger friends would help him out in his time of need, he found out differently. In Luke 15:16 it says, “…but no one gave him anything.” Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or just fed up with him, their denials told him that he needed to do something different from now on, or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…”  He saw the light.  When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he faced some pretty important decisions in his life.  It helped him realize his predicament and he quickly discovered what life is all about, perhaps for the very first time.

The point is…it took a very traumatic experience for him to come to his senses. Before he could get past his prodigal mindset, he had to hit rock bottom. Then he finally began thinking more clearly about finances and about the basic necessities of life.

Could you be the one responsible for your own teen becoming a prodigal?  Moreover, could you be the one acting like a prodigal yourself?  You are if you are catering to your teen’s every financial want or need without teaching them the value of work and how to wisely manage their own money.  Perhaps it’s time to take a look at your finances and begin to limit your giving to your teen, before it contributes to them becoming a prodigal.

By the way, a good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need.  Take them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line.  Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week.  Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing. When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves), how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, you may want to shift gears to lavish upon your kids every good thing they need in life, not everything they want.  One good thing they despereately need is to learn how to make money and manage finances on their own. They’ll have to go without all the goodies you’ve financed in the past, but it’s a lesson they’ll thank you for one day.

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Parents on a Different Page, but Same Chapter

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications

Same Page

Raising teens is hard enough when parents agree on how a child should be parented. But confusion flourishes and relationships flounder when moms and dads can’t seem to get on the same parenting page. During adolescence, kids need a cohesive and focused team approach from Mom and Dad, whether the entire family is living in the same house or not.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your parenting personality. I parent different than my wife.  My wife’s personality is different than mine. And it works! The two styles combined provide a varied approach to our kids, who have their own personalities. There are times in our kids’ lives that my type of parenting works best, and there are times when hers does. But make no mistake—above and beyond our parenting styles, my wife and I work together for the same purpose, and that’s to raise healthy and mature kids.

If you and your spouse aren’t on the same parenting page, there’s going to trouble. Here’s an example. If one of you is focused on pleasing a teen and making him happy all the time, and the other is focused on preparing him for the next stage of life, you’ll end up with a teen who remains immature, and tends to favor the parent who is taking them along the path of least resistance. The other parent becomes the “bad guy” and the teen is not prepared to handle the challenges that will soon be before him. Keep parenting at cross-purposes, and somewhere along the teen-timeline, relationships will be damaged, spouses will be hurt, and lessons will be lost.

So how do you ensure you and your spouse are working as a team?

Watch The Criticism

Since none of us are perfect, there will always be something your spouse did, or didn’t do, that could be cause for complaints. But before you criticize your mate, ask yourself if it will help or hurt your partnership. Too often, moms and dads start seeing each other as adversaries instead of teammates. If your spouse has dropped the ball or fumbled a pass while raising your teen, you don’t have to point it out or assign blame. I can guarantee that you’ll drop the ball a few times as well! Instead, learn how to honestly express the strains and struggles you are feeling towards your spouse without pointing the finger. And if your spouse slips up and directs some blame your way, don’t counterattack. We all get carried away with our words sometimes. Instead, tackle your marital struggles and disagreements with a bedrock commitment to respect and unity. You will not only improve your relationship with your spouse, you will also give your teen a powerful example to follow. My friend DeeDee Mayer says that one of the great benefits of marriage is: “To know and be known as a human being and be loved anyway.”

Agree Even If You Don’t

Moms and Dads will never see eye-to-eye on every parenting issue. But you can agree to work together and speak with one voice and one message to your teens. Agree to talk through disagreements over what is important for your child. When you differ on what the parenting focus should be in your home, some sacrifice from both parents may be necessary in order to reach an agreement. But having a unified front can bring about some big results in your teens. So agree to be united in your parenting. Agree about which “hills to die on”, what’s major, what’s minor, what’s important, what’s not. And if you can’t come to an agreement, then seek counsel from someone you both look up to, and continue to respect each other, especially in front of your kids.

Focus On Your Marriage

My wife and I have been weather-tested when it comes to raising teenagers. But even now, with adult kids, we still tussle over the advice we give to our kids and we still struggle to give each other the grace to make mistakes sometimes. When my twenty-five year old announced his divorce, for instance, Jan and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on what to do, or how to talk with our son. We were confused and hurting, and it took its toll on our marriage. We started drifting apart, setting up emotional foxholes and hunkering down alone. It took the grace of God to snap us out of the funk and get us back together and focused. We realized we needed each other to survive, and working through the pain by ourselves was not an option.

I know this may surprise you, but your relationship with your spouse is more important than your relationship with your child. So this next piece of advice is mandatory: take time every day to give attention to your spouse. Take a break from the rest of your family to go on a date. Write him a love note. Surprise her with flowers. Go away for the weekend. Cultivate a healthy marriage. Nurture each other for a little while and you will soon see how refreshed and re-energized you feel. You’ll work better as a team, and your kids will see a powerful model of a husband and wife who are devoted to each other and are on the same page.

Be Patient

If you’ve been married for a while, you’ve likely realized by now that you can’t change your spouse. The only person you can change is you. Raising teens as a united team takes time. It’s a daily process. We need to display patience and grace with each other in order to make it work. That may require us to give up some of our opinions for the sake of unity. But let me tell you—it’s so worth it!

Parents, if you are approaching the teen years with your kids, start preparing ahead of time. Begin having those conversations to ensure that you are on the same page, and that the foundations of your marriage are strong.  The steps you take today will guard your marriage from the problems that can come during adolescence. And if you have teens in your home now, perhaps the best thing you can do for your teen right now is to turn your attention toward your marriage, and strengthen the parenting team.

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A Special Message from Mark

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Links to Heartlight

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Dear Friend,

Every so often, I write a note to all our readers asking them to help us as we continue to help you in your parenting roles. This is one of those requests.

Jan and I have spent our lives in ministry, helping teens and families since we were both 19 years of age, right before we got married. This year, we’ve been married 40 years, and will both turn 60. It’s a big year for us to celebrate our marriage, our age, and our ministry of helping families.

Doing this for 40 years means that we’ve also spent 40 years asking people to partner with us in our endeavors to help families. This isn’t a “money appeal”….it’s a “auction item appeal”!

One of those unique ways is to engage people’s support, has been asking them to contribute items to our Silent Auction that will be held at our 21st Annual Dallas Dinner on Saturday, April 11th.   600 people will gather for a night to hear about the work of Heartlight and Parenting Today’s Teens, and our hope is to raise $300,000 through donation and the silent auction.

Here’s where I need your help.

The Silent Auction at this event is an opportunity for us to offer some great gifts, opportunities, experiences, and items to folks from all over the country. People will be bidding on everything from everywhere, so any item that would “sell” would fit into this auction.

It’s our hope to put together “auction packages.” For example, if someone donated a condo in another city, we’d package that with a dinner in that city along with airfare. Or if someone donated travel certificates and another concert tickets, we may send them to a special concert somewhere in the country. The variations are endless.

Would you take a few minutes to consider something?   If you have any of the following, would you consider donating it to the auction? Or consider asking your favorite restaurant or hotel to donate something towards your favorite charity (well, one of them). Here’s a listing of what we’re looking for:

Sports Tickets
Time Shares
Special Event Tickets
Old Guitars
Sports Memorabilia
Autographed Items
Musical Instruments
Restaurant Certificates
Rifles/Shotguns
Home on the Beach
Home in the Mountains
Home on the Range
Wine Packages
Airline Miles
Special Vacations
Antiques
Trips or Hunts
Adventures

You get the tax write off…the person bidding gets the item…and the Heartlight Foundation gets the donation for one of our best fundraisers. It’s a “Win – Win – Win” for everyone! As mentioned, your gifts are tax-deductible as the Heartlight Ministries Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) organization. If you have an idea about something that you’d like to donate, please call my son, Adam Gregston at 972.342.4416, or adamg@HeartlightMinistries.org.

This event raises the funds needed to keep us on the air in radio. It keeps these newsletters coming. It provides for the Families in Crisis Seminars and keeps me on the road helping families through our seminars and conferences.

For more information about the event, or to attend or sponsor, click here.

We’re most grateful for your participation with us and for making this a successful event for the sake of parents and teens across North America. Thanks in advance for you help!

 

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Mark Gregston

 

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5 Qualities of a Good Rule

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in conversation

Checklist

Years ago, we had several boys living with us in our home. They were assigned their own bathroom, but based on the worsening condition of those facilities, I realized these guys needed some help exercising maturity and self-control. I told them, “Fellas, from now on, you need to clean your own toilet and keep this bathroom tidy. If not, you could lose it.” Unfortunately, they ignored the rule and the mess got even worse. So, one day, I just took the entire toilet out! The toilet needed to be replaced anyway, but the boys didn’t need to know that. I thought not having it for a while would be a good learning experience for them.

When the boys got home from school, there was nothing but a little hole in the floor where the messy toilet used to stand. In disbelief, they asked me, “Where are we supposed to go?” I said, “I’m sorry, the rule was that you needed to keep the bathroom clean, and if you didn’t, you couldn’t have it.” Well, after a few days of dealing with just a hole in the ground, the boys came back to me and asked, “What do we need to do to get our toilet back?” Once they experienced the consequences, they saw the value of the rule, and put in the work necessary to reclaim their bathroom.

Rules are not just about getting the chores done, cleaning the house (or making it smell better). Like the story of the boys’ toilet, rules give us the opportunity to teach our teens important life principles about responsibility. So how do you know that the rules of your house are helping your kids instead of hurting them? Let me offer five essential characteristics of a good rule.

1. Rules Should Be Relevant

Boundaries that were necessary and acceptable when your child was seven will likely be outdated when he is seventeen. Good rules flex and grow along with your child. I believe that nothing good happens for a teenager after midnight, so curfews are a good boundary to establish. But while a 9 o’clock curfew is great for a 13-year-old, it’s probably too early for a sixteen-year-old. Good rules help our teens learn to make good decisions for themselves and wean them from their dependency on mom and dad. This happens when our rules stay relevant and current with the age and maturity of our child.

2. Rules Should Be Attainable

As parents, we all want great things for our kids. Encouraging your son or daughter to succeed is good, but if reaching a particular expectation set up by mom and dad seems impossible, a teen will shut down, quit or rebel. Our rules should be about getting kids where they need to go, and keeping them from where they shouldn’t be. So the rules we set up should be realistic and reasonable, allowing teens to fulfill (or maybe even exceed) expectations. You could reasonably say, “If you get a ‘D’ in any class, then we have to take away your cell phone for a week.” That’s a logical goal to shoot for. But if you insist, “Get straight A’s or you lose your cellphone for a week!” that expectation may be too demanding for your teen. It would be unfair to make your 8-year-old mow the lawn every week. But it’s an attainable goal to have your 14-year-old do some landscaping on the weekend. A good rule is always within reach for your child.

3. Rules Should Be Beneficial

Think about some of the rules in your house and ask yourself, “Will this help build up my kids’ character and cause them to become more mature and responsible?” If the answer is “no”, then you probably need to rethink that rule and your motivation for wanting to make it a rule. Good boundaries grow out of a good relationship with your child. It’s not about exerting control, wielding authority, or keeping your teen under your thumb. You want to help your teen become a dependable and responsible adult, and the rules of your home should be designed to get your son or daughter to that place. If the rule is not helpful, it may be time to toss it aside.

4. Rules Should Make Sense

Mom and dad … rules need to make sense. We can all remember rules set down by our own parents that made no sense at all. I can remember being told I was not allowed to grow my hair past my earlobes. Even as a teen I asked, “Why not?” It wasn’t because I was rebellious or wanted to shock people—I just wanted to fit in with the guys at my school who had cool, long hair. We need to listen to our teens and honestly hear their objections to some of the long-standing rules we’ve put in place. It’s not enough to say, “Do it because I said so!” Your teen might not be able to understand how a rule is beneficial, but you should have a logical reason for every rule, and be able to explain that reason to your teenager. If not, the rule doesn’t make sense and should be scrapped.

5. Rules Should Come From a Place of Love

I said it before, but it’s so true—Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. If there is no love but a lot of boundaries, that’s legalism, and kids feel stifled and smothered. If there is plenty of love but no boundaries, then there’s no structure, and kids go out-of-control. Good rules grow out of a loving willingness to provide guidance.

We were playing paintball with some kids at Heartlight, and the teens love plastering me with paint. When we were finished, I was surprised to find one of the boys refusing to clean his equipment. I went up to him and said, “We had a good time, and you know the rule for the course—everybody cleans their own equipment.” With a verbal onslaught, the young man told me he simply wasn’t going to do that. I remained calm and said to him, “Now we have another problem. In addition to breaking the equipment cleaning rule, you are also being disrespectful.” Then I laid out the consequences for breaking the rules. After a couple of days raking pine needles, the teen came to me and apologized. I brought the lesson home and reaffirmed him by saying, “You are a good man, but the way you responded in these situations hurts your relationships with the people you’re closest to. I want something better for you. By the way, this lesson is not about cleaning the stupid paintball stuff. This is about helping you be successful in life.

It’s true that a bad rule can hurt a child. But a good rule, in the hands of a loving parent, can be the best thing in the life of a teen.

 

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Mark Gregston

 

 

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Troubled Teen = Marital Trouble

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in divorce, marriage, parenting, struggling teens, troubled teens

 

Parents Fighting

During a past radio program, my guest Dr. Melody Rhode commented that the death of a child is such a catastrophic experience in the life of parents, it leads 90% of those marriages to fail. A shocking statistic, isn’t it?

In my years of working with thousands of struggling teens and their parents, I’ve learned that parents of troubled teens experience a similar sense of grief and loss, and also a profound sense of betrayal from their teen. Perhaps their teen has run away or otherwise has totally abandoned the family and everything they hold dear. To these parents it may seem as though a “death” has occurred, and as such, it similarly puts a great deal of stress on their marriage.

Often, the crisis with a teen amplifies the true condition of a marriage, revealing its areas of weakness. A teen’s acting out may actually be his unintentional way of forcing the adults in his life to deal with their obvious marital problems. It may be a relational problem that everyone in the family already knows exists – but is never talked about or addressed – or, it could simply be a lack of real love or respect in the relationship. Unfortunately, a parent who tends to be always absent, angry, too submissive or too strict may demonstrate these traits even more as they also have to deal with their teen’s behavior. It can be overwhelming for any parent.

On the other hand, I’ve seen many parents (even parents who had previously divorced each other) band together when their teen experiences troubles. Contrary to the hopelessness of a death, these parents are hopeful that something can yet be done to help their teen. They know that more is at stake than their own needs. They know that this issue with their teenager is bigger and more important than their own issues. Therefore, they know they had better get their own act together, or their teen may be lost forever.

For married parents who want to help their teen through this crisis, it is critical to understand that dealing with a struggling teen can be hard on your marriage. Really hard! And the failure of your marriage in the midst of the turmoil can lead to even more dire consequences for your teenager. To help you avoid these destructive forces, I encourage you to take these proactive steps:

Preventing Marital Jeopardy for Parents of Troubled Teens

  • See the experience as something you must manage together. Attend couples counseling, get outside help specifically for managing your stress. If one of you tends to choose isolation from the problem, or expresses anger inappropriately, address it with a professional. If you’ve never had reason or motivation to improve your relationship, keep in mind that saving your teen is a really good reason.
  • Begin to share your feelings about what’s happening in your family. Hiding your feelings from your spouse, or not talking about your fears, anxieties, or worries only isolates you from the problem.
  • Present a united front to your teen, and one that insists your child treat both of you respectfully. This is a time when parenting comes from a love that is tough and remains strong, like that of a warrior ready to fight to keep a child from self-destruction. Treating each other respectfully is a first step.
  • Identify how your teen’s out of control behavior is specifically hurting your marriage relationship, and express your feelings openly to your spouse. Protect your spouse’s feelings and don’t share them with others.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to fill the void left by your teen’s wrong choices or absence.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to change. Instead, focus on changing yourself.
  • Don’t vent your frustrations on anyone else in the family, especially your spouse. Find other ways to vent that don’t include relationship-bashing.
  • Don’t blame each other for the trouble you are experiencing with your teen. Blame will help no one at this point and in fact will feed your teen’s problems.
  • Find other parents who are experiencing similar issues with their teen, and spend time with them. Relate your struggles and give them the chance to do the same. It may be difficult to find others who are willing to engage in such a private discussion, so you be willing to start the discussion, if needed. Attend conferences, like our Gathering at Heartlight, to help you gain insight and understand that you are not alone in this struggle.
  • Respond instead of react to what comes your way. Take time to think it through before you make a decision, and make certain the decision is one you both support. Ask God’s help in finding the right answers, and strength to do what’s necessary.
  • Don’t avoid the pain – if you avoid dealing with the pain, you avoid finding a solution. Examine the feelings of loss, betrayal, sorrow, or anger, and ask God to come alongside to bear your burdens.
  • Make decisions together as much as possible in regard to your teen, but don’t undermine your spouse’s decisions even if they are not discussed in advance. Recognize that there are things your spouse will do differently, and let it become a strength. Try to support their style of parenting, even if it’s not always what you would do, or how you would do it.
  • Keep looking to the other side of the struggle. Be patient. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is God. Find hope in your relationship with God, and move in the direction He leads, knowing the struggle with your child will eventually end and the teen who gives you the hardest time is often the one you’ll end up relating to best down the road.

Above all, know this: teens in crisis are experts at pitting one parent against another, creating a wedge in order to deflect attention away from their own bad behavior. So, at a time like this, be aware that you will be challenged with more marital problems. If you keep in mind where those stressors are coming from and also take to heart the steps I’ve outlined above, it could save your marriage.

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